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Douglas Rushkoff | Stop Punching the Industrial Age Timeclock

Written by: Bill Sherman on Saturday, 11 May 2013, 3:03 PM

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff believes that our Industrial Age concepts of time have become irreparably broken. They no longer reflect how we live or work. In his new book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Douglas Rushkoff explores problems we’ve been seeing amplify for years, offering a vocabulary and outlining potential solutions.



To put it most simply, the money we use has a built-in clock—an embedded relationship to time that informs how we obtain capital, how we pay it back, how we invest, how we sell, and how we communicate. That clock has run out. It has wound down, and been replaced with something else. I call it “presentism”, or a focus on the now over the past or even the future. If we understand this shift—the most truly significant change wrought by the digital—we can thrive in the new landscape. If we can’t—if we end up paralyzed in what I’ve come to call “present shock,” then we may as well go down with the rest of the Industrial Age.”

Increasingly, we’ve tried to make our lives fit  a digital clock and online calendar, even though those tools do not fit the rhythm (or purpose) of  life. Here’s one simple example.

Both Miscosoft Outlook and Google Calendar default to 1/2 hour and hour meetings. When we send/receive out meeting requests, we typically accept this default meeting length–without question. We never pause to consider whether the meeting needs that much time to create value. If the meeting ends early, then we need to decide what to do:

  • Fill the time with empty chit-chat
  • Go back to our desk and kill time until our next meeting (because people don’t want to start a “real” project when they need to jump into another meeting so soon)

In either case, we lower our ability to create impact, because we’re living according to the demands of a timeclock.

Rushkoff describes how Ancient Greek culture had two very different concepts of time:

  • Chronos: the kind of time that’s registered by the clock–chronology
  • Kairos: the right time or the most opportune moment

Rushkoff argues that digital time forces “our minds and bodies to keep up with digital chronos” and “misappl[ies] our digital technologies to human processes.” On the other hand, kairos encourages us to experience the now and make the most of the present that’s right in front of us.

I agree with Douglas Rushkoff here. In the Industrial Age, Frederick Taylor (and other researchers) conducted time-motion analyses of factory floors. They identified ways to increase workplace productivity, and these innovations led to business tools such as continuous improvement, six-sigma, and lean. These tools remain useful for the factory floor, but they miss many aspects of knowledge work and business relations.

Too often, we asks ourselves “what’s the next thing on my calendar today?” rather than ask a much more powerful question “what’s the most impactful thing that I could do in the next hour?”

Rushkoff has also published a Change This manifesto for business leaders: “Time Ain’t Money: Stop Punching the Industrial Age Clock, and Start Embracing the Digital Now“.

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